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Health care scrutiny tests White House

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she takes full responsibility for the deficiencies in the health care website at a hearing before the Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In politics, everyone has bad days.

Wednesday certainly wasn’t the worst one President Barack Obama has seen, but his signature domestic achievement was on trial before House Republicans in charge of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius diffused some of the fireworks early in her testimony by taking responsibility for some of the failures of HealthCare.gov in the rollout of the federal insurance exchanges this month.

“Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible,” she said.

The Morning LineAs Sebelius spoke, HealthCare.gov was down, giving television networks carrying the hearing an opportunity to do one of those unfortunate split screens.

The president was on the road to trumpet the Affordable Care Act, and defended his administration while saying it can do better.

And a new poll from NBC News/Wall Street Journal found Mr. Obama’s approval rating had declined to “an all-time low.”

Senior political editor Mark Murray writes that just 42 percent approve of the president’s job performance, a drop of five points from last month. And the survey found 51 percent disapprove.

“What’s more, for the first time in the survey, Obama’s positive-negative rating is upside-down, with 41 percent viewing him a favorable light and 45 percent viewing him negatively,” Murray writes.

Republicans are still faring poorly, with an all-time low of their own: 22 percent saw the GOP in a positive light and 53 percent viewed it negatively. The health care law has dropped in popularity with 37 percent believing it is a good idea, and 47 percent believing it’s a bad one.

A series of stories Wednesday examined what the White House knew about flaws with the HealthCare.gov rollout, and Republicans seized on a Washington Post fact-check about the president’s pledges on people being able to keep their health care plans amid reports about wide cancellations.

Along the same lines, New York Magazine did a supercut of the president promising multiple times that, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”

The New York Times gets inside the White House reaction to the fervor over the website’s problems:

Senior advisers to the president said they understood that the bungled rollout of the insurance marketplace has given Republicans another opportunity to litigate the political case against the health care law. But they said they viewed the weeks ahead as a period of inevitable improvement that will vindicate their position.

“The weight of that momentum will have a positive impact,” one senior administration official said, requesting anonymity to talk about White House strategy planning. “Really it’s about blocking and tackling and getting that work done.”

On the bright side Wednesday, Democrats hailed a new report showing the deficit had dropped below $1 trillion for the first time in five years, the fastest decline since the end of World War II. And the president enjoyed a boisterous crowd in Boston as he hailed the successes he’s seen from the health care law since he signed it in 2010.

For their part, House Republicans skipped a health care briefing they had demanded after House Democrats were offered one last week. Just 20 lawmakers showed up for the session, one Republican told reporters.

The NewsHour looked at the day’s activity as the lead of the show, and rounded up the president’s comments in Boston.

Watch the segment here or below:

And watch Mr. Obama here.

STRIVING FOR THE MAJORITY

Gwen Ifill sat down with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Wednesday for an exclusive interview, and would not join some of his fellow Republicans in calling for Sebelius to resign:

Well, look, she works for the president. The president will make a decision about whether he wants to continue her.

But I think that’s, to some extent, a distraction. The point is, could anybody make it work? I don’t think Albert Einstein could make this thing work. It can’t work. It won’t work. And so I feel sorry for her being put in a position where she’s trying to make something work out that won’t.

I think, sooner or later, they will get the website fixed, but that’s not the real story. The question is, what’s going to be available once you are able to get on a website?

The interview ranged from Republican strategy on Capitol Hill to his re-election campaign in Kentucky, and McConnell weighed in on federal budget discussions and a GOP strategy to delay confirmation for the president’s nominees.

McConnell asserted there won’t be another government shutdown nor a federal default. But he added that the fiscal impasses can create useful moments for Congress. “We think we ought to use these occasions to generate a discussion about it and see what we can get the administration to agree with,” he said.

Watch the interview here or below:


Online, Gwen chatted with McConnell about the fight to hold his Senate seat in Kentucky.

“I’m very confident I’ll be the nominee of my party next year. And we’re — actually, we’re into the general election right now in terms of the issues that are developing,” he said in a positive note about the challenge he faces from the right in the May 20 primary.

McConnell is up against businessman Matt Bevin in that contest. If his prediction is correct and he prevails, McConnell will face Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in the general election next fall.

Outside groups including the Senate Conservatives Fund have been pouring money into Bevin’s candidacy. And Democrats are energized by Grimes, who has done well in fundraising.

Watch here or below:


LINE ITEMS

  • The Washington Post reported the National Security Agency can collect data from Yahoo and Google by infiltrating their communication links at data centers.

  • Senator-elect and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker formally will join the Senate Thursday when he takes his oath of office from Vice President Joe Biden. USA Today previews what Booker’s first term may look like.

  • The Budget Conference Committee began formal talks Thursday. On the NewsHour, Christina spoke with Judy Woodruff about the glimmers of hope some lawmakers feel about reaching a compromise, if not a “grand bargain.”

  • David Rogers details for Politico the start of the farm bill negotiations.

  • Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, rising Democratic stars with possible national ambition themselves, expressed support for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to enter the presidential race. All of the female Democratic senators signed a letter encouraging her to run, Sen. Kay Hagan said at an event Monday, letting the secret slip. Senate aides told ABC News that the letter was organized at the urging of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and “was meant to be a private show of support from a group of 16 high-profile former colleagues and fans who are now senators, urging Clinton to do what much of the Democratic Party assumes she will.”

  • Clinton said behind closed doors in Scotland, apparently, that she is “minded to do it.”

  • Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could bring the Employment Non Discrimination Act back to the floor “as early as next week” after Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia became the final Democrat to offer his support for the measure.

  • After a long delay, the Senate confirmed the president’s pick to lead the Office of Personnel Management.

  • Politico’s James Hohmann looks at the GOP surrogates on the trail in Virginia, noting Republican governors and conservative lawmakers are not drawing the same crowds for Ken Cuccinelli events in Virginia compared with Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, who has been basking in star power.

  • The New York Times finds Democrats more eager to seek congressional office after seeing voters mad about the 16-day partial government shutdown.

  • At a breakfast with reporters in Washington, Purdue University president and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels declined to state his opinion on same-sex marriage. The Republican governor had supported a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage while he was in office, and voters could take up the issue in a 2014 ballot initiative if legislators approve the amendment.

  • University of California president and former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pledged to provide $5 million in university funds to aid students who immigrated illegally and are not eligible for financial aid.

  • Former Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink will run for Congress.

  • Who will replace Booker in Newark? City Council President Luis Quintana could become the city’s first Latino mayor. The Associated Press reports that a mayoral election will take place in May, though Quintana does not plan to run.

  • The Associated Press reports that a federal judge “is considering whether to allow a funeral director to remain on a lawsuit that seeks to have gay marriages recognized on Ohio death certificates despite a statewide ban, saying after a lively court hearing in Cincinnati on Wednesday that he would act quickly in the matter.”

  • Al Jazeera America is reporting that a Democratic state senator has been implicated in “California’s biggest legislative scandal in more than two decades,” after an undercover sting operation that “could signal the downfall of a political dynasty.”

  • A bust honoring Winston Churchill was dedicated at the Capitol.

  • New York City will raise the legal age for buying tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars, to 21.

  • 9 Levels Of Shade Kathleen Sebelius Threw At Republicans During The Obamacare Hearing,” via Buzzfeed.

  • Rand Paul appears to have lifted lines from a Wikipedia description of a futuristic movie in order to speak about eugenics and social policies this week.

  • Take that, haters! D.C. was ranked the 14th best city to live in. In the world. And this is a serious report.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

TOP TWEETS

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